Meggan Guns is currently working as a Prosecutor for the state of Iowa in Polk county, specifically in the drug and gang crime bureau. She has had a diverse career working in both the private and public sectors. But no matter where she worked, Meggan has always sought out the work that she believes will do the most good for the greater community. Through my conversation with her, I learned a lot about her strong moral compass that compels her to always do what she thinks is right, regardless of how difficult or thankless that might be. Full disclosure, Meggan Guns is my second cousin. Even fuller disclosure, before this interview, I had never had a conversation with her.
Meggan began her undergraduate education at the University of Iowa where she was pre med. She transferred to Loras College in Dubuque after a semester when, according to her, she “very quickly realized how bad I was at chemistry.” She also switched her major to business, another reason why she chose Loras specifically, for their well-regarded business program.
After her Sophomore year of undergrad, Meggan began to become interested in the law, and possibly going into law school. Unlike medical school, law schools do not require a specific undergraduate plan of study to be admitted. Meggan decided to change her major once again and pursue what Loras refers to as an “individualized major”, which is essentially a plan of study created by a student that does not exist in the programs offered by Loras College, but is still recognized as a degree. Meggan called her program “Legal Studies” and pulled classes from the history, political science, and business departments, along with others. She graduated from Loras with her degree in 2006.
Prior to entering law school, Meggan never thought she would ever even be in a courtroom. She figured she would stick to “the business side of things” and specify in business law while getting her JD. She ended up getting both her JD and her MBA at the same time through a program at Drake University in Des Moines. While there she shifted her focus from business to criminal law.
Meggan graduated in 2009, during what could be seen as the worst part of the great recession. Speaking of her post-graduate job search, Meggan said “I couldn’t get a job prosecuting for the life of me.” Even though her desire was to work for the government in the public sector, she ended up taking a job with in private practice doing family law such as divorces and child custody cases. After a year in the private sector, Meggan landed a job with Dallas County as a Legal Assistant. Soon after she became an Attorney with the county after convincing her higher ups that she would be more effective in that position. “I kind of ‘backdoored’ my way into a job,” she said. After a few years in Dallas County, Meggan became a prosecutor for Polk County in the drug and gang crime division.
Working in the public sector seemed like a better fit with Meggan’s strong sense of morals and ethics. “For me, helping enforce the laws, felt like it was going to be more where I could morally be,” she said. She took her position and responsibilities very seriously, always making sure to adhere to the processes and conduct business the way it is required to be done. She felt that, “having a person found guilty of a crime isn’t worth anything if we didn’t do everything the way we’re supposed to.” In working for the state of Iowa and therefore the U.S. government, Meggan said that “I do understand our criminal justice system isn’t perfect by any means, but I do think it’s the best one in the world.”
Having worked in both private practice and as a county attorney, Meggan said that one of the biggest differences between the sectors to her is working directly with law enforcement. As a part of the job, attorneys are on call “almost all the time” in Polk County. For comparison, in Dallas County, a significantly smaller county, Meggan says she was on call 24/7 for one week every six weeks.
In addition, attorneys for the state of Iowa have only one client, but it happens to be everyone who lives in the state. The victim of a crime is not their client. As Meggan describes it, “I have to balance the full community vs just the victim.” They do not have to wait for the victim to press charges, and will likely do so even if the victim does not want to pursue civil charges. “I have to think about the greater good,” she said.
In the context of the cultural zeitgeist, we as the public have heard many stories about the plight of the public defender. The heavy workloads, the seemingly endless days, all to do a thankless job that at the same time our country would likely collapse without. We don’t usually hear too much about the life or work of state prosecutors, probably because putting people in jail isn’t as romantic or traditionally easy to champion as keeping people out of jail. When I asked Meggan how her work compares to that of a public defender, she explained that where she works in Polk County, there are over 50 attorneys, but in smaller counties, one state prosecutor may have to take all the cases for that county. “They’re handling all of it,” she said. She said that as a prosecutor she is able to specialize what her field is unlike a public defender, but she said the workload is likely similar. “I respect everything their doing,” Meggan said of public defenders.
So why do the job? It’s stressful, takes up much more time than a traditional job, and is largely thankless. For Meggan, it’s about trying to do right by the people of her community. In the course of her job, she has seen the damage that drugs can do to a person. “The longer I prosecute, I see those same people come back in front of me.” And while drug related offences are often described as victimless crimes, Meggan said that’s not how it really works out. “It’s never victimless,” she said. People are killed trying to get drugs. Users often steal from family members. Meggan says no matter what the circumstance, “somebody’s being effected,” and “the majority of people don’t see how much it does affect them,” in everyday society. She said she wants to be the one to stand up for the community and those affected by drug use. “Somebody’s gotta stand up against it,” she said, “They deserve to have somebody who is passionate about this.” When asked about what she gets out of her job on a personal level, she believes that, “It is thankless, but at the end of the day if i can go home thinking that I helped one person I can feel like I did some good in the world even in my little corner of Iowa.”